OGDEN — When she retired about 13 years ago, Linda Weiskopf busied herself with biking, yoga and other activities she hadn’t had time for during her 37 years of work at the IRS.
Those activities filled the first three years of her retirement. Although she was in great shape physically, the pastimes felt empty to Weiskopf, leading her to begin searching for something with more purpose.
“I have a slogan that you do things that benefit you and others, so I was looking for what that thing was going to be,” Weiskopf said.
Five years earlier, Weiskopf had met a woman raising a puppy for Canine Companions for Independence. The nonprofit organization provides assistance dogs, free of charge, to individuals with a variety of physical disabilities.
Although Weiskopf thought that was a nice thing, she didn’t think she could raise a puppy. But after searching for a meaningful activity, Weiskopf and her husband, David Weiskopf, decided they would give it a try.
Canine Companion puppy raisers take care of a puppy from the time it is 8 weeks old until it is 1 1/2. Then the dogs go onto “puppy college,” where they are trained to be assistance dogs.
It has been 11 years since the couple raised their first puppy. Currently, they are raising their ninth.
In addition to a love for dogs, Weiskopf has always had a passion for gardening. Sometime after she retired, she developed an interest in heirloom tomato seeds.
“Some people buy shoes, I buy seeds,” Weiskopf said. “ I love all the unique varieties.”
Weiskopf originally grew the plants in her basement, but there just wasn’t enough space for all of the varieties she had collected. She would give plants to friends, but then she decided to sell her surplus as a fundraiser for Canine Companions.
Still, Wieskopf had plants left over.
To solve the problem, a fellow puppy raiser helped connect Weiskopf with someone who was willing to loan her land for growing her plants.
Now, Weiskopf tends a garden of about 500 tomato plants. Additionally, she grows a variety of squash, onions, green beans, okra and eggplant. Almost all of the produce is grown from seed.
The seedlings have spread from their spot in Weiskopf’s basement to borrowed greenhouse space at Willard Bay Gardens.
“It’s this incredible community connection where people loan me land, people help me by giving me space in a greenhouse, and then I give them half the tomatoes,” Weiskopf said.
Some of the tomatoes Weiskopf gives also go to people who help her with the gardening work.
The other half of Weiskopf’s produce is sold to four local Ogden restaurants— Rooster’s Brewing, Union Grill, Tona Sushi and Jeremiah’s Restaurant. Weiskopf donates the profit from her produce sales to Canine Companions. Last year, she raised $5,000 for the organization from produce sales.
Weiskopf calls her project — appropriately enough — Dog Patch Farms.
Kym Buttschardt, co-owner with her husband of Rooster’s and Union Grill, loves Weiskopf’s produce.
“Linda’s fresh produce product is superior,” Buttschardt said. “She is growing unique things and the thing that intrigues us the most is she is just growing it from her heart.”
Customers also love the produce, Buttschardt said, especially when they learn the story behind the gardens. Buttschardt described it as a win-win situation for all involved.
“It’s good for me, because I get all this wonderful good produce and it benefits others,” Weiskopf said. “Not only the people who are eating it or the restaurants who are buying it, but Canine Companions.”
Wendy Heim has a special appreciation for what Weiskopf and other Canine Companion volunteers do.
Heim's daughter Brianna is 12 and has glutaric acidemia type 1, a rare disease that affects her speech and motor skills. Brianna has had a Canine Companion dog named Emily for 2 1/2 years. Emily helps Brianna with a variety of tasks, such as carrying items for her and opening doors.
Heim said the family had met Weiskopf many times and that Weiskopf encouraged them to apply for a dog for Brianna. When the pieces came together, the Heims brought home Emily, who has been a perfect fit for Brianna.
“To be able to open your heart and your home to a puppy at 8 weeks old and to raise it until it’s a year and a half, and then to turn it in to start all over again, it takes a really special person,” Heim said.
Between the dogs and the gardens, Weiskopf said she has created “spider webs of connection” with individuals in not only her community, but throughout the country as well. She loves that feeiling of reaching outside of herself.
“It’s more about being connected and not being all about us,” Weiskopf said.
At the beginning of her retirement, she said, everything was about her. In comparison, life today is much more rewarding.
“It gives me purpose,” Weiskopf said. “It makes me realize how much bigger things are than just me. It helps me see people differently.”